Ahmad Jamal: Emerald City Nights – Live At The Penthouse 1966-1968

Jazz archivist Zed Feldman releases the last in his series of previously unreleased recordings of pianist Jamal at the Penthouse in Seattle

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Following two earlier recordings by Ahmad Jamal – Emerald City Lights: Live At The Penthouse 1963-1964, and Emerald City Nights: Live At The Penthouse 1965-1966, producer and archivist Zed Feldman has released this, the final volumes in the series. Transferred and remastered by Bernie Grundman, the issues were supervised by Jamal himself shortly before his death in April 2023.

They have been handsomely packaged with photographs, essays by Feldman and writer Eugene Holley, Jr., reflections by Jamal, and appreciative essays by pianists Monty Alexander, Les McCann and Emmet Cohen. Jamal himself greatly enjoyed the atmosphere at the Penthouse and recalled that its owner, Charlie Puzzo was “very strict”. He added: “You couldn’t make noise or disrespect the musicians, otherwise you were gone – tout de suite – if not sooner.”

Too readily dismissed by some critics as a lightweight cocktail pianist, Jamal was lauded by others – including Miles Davis – who asserted “Ahmad is one of my favourites… I gave Gill Evans a couple of his albums and he didn’t give them back.” (See my obituary notice.)

These 1960s performances were taped in Seattle when Jamal was gaining national and subsequently international popularity – and before he developed some admittedly irritating repetitive mannerisms. In an informative essay biographer Holley suggests that later generations of pianists – including Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock and Bill Charlap – were influenced by Jamal, who is quoted as saying “I studied Ravel, Debussy, Ellington and Tatum. I never called it jazz. I called it American classical music.” Les McCann told Feldman “I don’t know of any musician who doesn’t like Ahmad Jamal,” while Monty Alexander confided “Jamal is a miracle! He has the most powerful gift of anybody I have ever seen or known.”

All but one of these performances have Jamal stretching out, and include extended and exhilarating interpretations of Mr. Lucky (15.01), Corcovado (11.08) and Alfie (9.30). Jamil Nasser and Frank Gant provide both propulsive and gentle support throughout. The exception is a delicate solo rendition of Johnny Mandel’s Emily, with Jamal at his restrained and introspective best. Also recommended are Misty, Autumn Leaves and Dance To The Lady.

Reviewing the first two sets of Jamal’s Penthouse recordings – “A Minimalist Pianist Lets Loose” – Will Friedwald commented “He has been praised for his silences as much as his notes, for what he doesn’t play as much as what he does”. The same comment could be fairly applied to these 1966-1968 Penthouse dates.


Discography
CD1: Gloria; Fantastic Vehicle; Misty; Mr Lucky; Autumn Leaves (45.18)
CD2: Corcovado (Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars); Where Is Love; Dance To The Lady; Naked City Theme; Emily (solo); Alfie (48.07)

Jamal (p) on all tracks with: Jamil Nasser (b); Frank Gant (d). The Penthouse, Seattle, 29 September 1966; 24 August 1967; 31 August 1967; 26 April 1968.
Jazz Detective DDJD-006